I had plans for a different post today, but yesterday afternoon I was asked to be the pinch speaker at a local event. I thought I would share instead the remarks I plan to make shortly.
This Story Shall The Good Man Teach His Son
I speak today in place of Dylan, a young veteran who was scheduled to be here. He sends his sincere regrets, but his band of brothers is now smaller, and this day he and those closer in many ways than family, gather for a different ceremony of remembrance. I hope you will understand and forgive Dylan his absence.
Unlike him, I can’t speak on what it is like to serve in the modern armed forces. As a civilian, I have been fortunate to spend some time with our armed forces in Iraq. I can tell you that from the limited training and exposure I had back when Carter was President, and I declined commission, that they no more resemble the forces of that time than I resemble Ann Margaret.
The all volunteer force that we have today is professional, and does things with a precision that truly can’t be appreciated by those here at home. They have equipment that can honestly make me feel old, and even a touch envious, and for all the usual gripes, is so far beyond what was in place even 30 years ago as to seem like Mr. Spock’s phaser.
That is not to say that all is perfect, for it is not. The SNAFU fairy and, worse yet, the Good Idea Fairy, still strike. Yet, when that happens, those men and women serving today find a variety of creative and interesting ways to adapt and overcome.
I do not wish you a Happy Memorial Day, for this is not a happy day. Many things it is, but happy: No. When greeted with such, I tend to just simply say “to you too” though I long to say more.
For far too many, this is just another holiday. The joke told in the military is that they are at war, and America is at the mall. For those at the mall, those with no real connection to the day, this is a time for sales, vacations, and parties.
In many ways, it is not their fault. For far too many the reason for the day is abstract at best because they have no personal connection to the day. Nor are they taught any connection, much less taught its meaning.
For a good part of my life, Memorial Day was a day of the past. It was when I remembered my several times removed ancestor who died somewhere southeast of Nashville in a very uncivil war, and who lies there in an unmarked grave. It was a day I remembered my Uncle Foster, lost in one of the last naval attacks on mainland Japan, who’s casket is his plane which lies somewhere on the bottom of the sea.
For me, change began with the Marine Barracks in Beruit and truly changed on 9-11. I was lucky that day, the people I knew in the Pentagon and at the World Trade Center got out alive. Their friends and colleagues, however, were not as fortunate. It was then that this day truly ceased being a thing of the past, and became a thing of the present.
In America, we are far more fortunate than we can truly appreciate. When the drum has sounded, when freedom and liberty have been threatened, a select group of men, women, and even children in times past, have stood forward and answered the call. They have watered the tree of liberty with that most precious of gifts, their blood, their lives.
On this day of memory, I want to introduce you to some of the most recent, who have special meaning to me.
Major Mathew Schram gave his life this day in 2003. He was the colleague and friend of someone I give thanks to be able to call friend. On this day, he led a convoy in Iraq and when it came under attack, he and his driver personally counterattacked to a plan they had worked out in advance. Their action caused the enemy to flee; however, Major Schram was killed in the process. It is worth noting that aside from him, no one else died because of his plan and prompt action. Two other soldiers were wounded, one of whom, his driver, continued the mission. It is also well worth noting that the convoy was being followed by a vehicle with a reporter for a major weekly magazine. When the ambush broke, they turned to flee and did so – something that would not have been possible if not for Major Schram’s action and sacrifice. It is also worth noting that the reporter and magazine never reported on this, as it wasn’t news that a good and better man died to save his life. From all I have heard of Mat Schram, I do wish I could have met him and known him. I remember him this day.
Specialist Marieo Guerrero, Captain Anthony Palermo, Private First Class Damian Lopez, and Specialist Ryan Dallam died in 2007 in West Rasheed, Iraq. They were part of the catalyst for my first embed to Iraq, and also the reason that Combat Outpost Ellis became the lynchpin for bringing the Anbar Awakening into the area southwest of Baghdad – and into Baghdad itself. Their colleagues and friends shared some of their stories with me, and I wish I could do more to bring them to life for you this day. Captain Palermo inspired the men who served under him, including those that stepped up when he fell to enemy action. The stories I heard of all these men brought forth smiles, laughter, and some tears. Specialist Guerrero died in March, and the rest on one dark day in April to a massive IED.
Lance Corporal Jeremy W. Burris is someone I particularly want to remember this day. His story, to my mind, exemplifies the special people we are here to remember. I can’t say I knew him, for I met him only in passing out at Al Qa’im on the Syrian border. Like most Marines I’ve met, he was full of – life.
He was one of a small horde of Marines to whom I was introduced in a blur of faces and names. He went out on a patrol, one on which I wanted to go on but couldn’t. While out, his vehicle was hit by an IED. Like any good Marine, he responded and got his buddies out to safety. There, he treated them for their injuries. Realizing that there were items in the vehicle that would make his brothers more comfortable and otherwise help, he went back. It was then that the second IED was detonated.
Afterwards, I learned more about him, those things I did not get a chance to learn from him. He had a love of music, an appreciation of the opposite sex, drive, and energy. He was in many ways, a very typical young man, who very atypically volunteered to serve his country in time of war. He, like all who currently serve, knew what they were doing, knew the risks, and still stepped forward and chose to join. I think of him often, and am glad I can share that very small bit of him I have learned with you this day.
Today is a day of remembrance. It is a day to honor those that paid the ultimate price for our freedom. It is a day to give most profound thanks to whatever God you worship, that such have walked and do walk among us and, stepped up to the call.
They are our parents, our children, our husbands, our wives, our friends. They fight for us this day, as generations before did for them. Next year, we will have more to remember, but we should not remember in sorrow, but with pride, thanks, and appreciation for them and for their sacrifice. One they have chosen to make, by knowingly volunteering in time of war, and we should do nothing to belittle that choice and the costly gift they have willingly laid on the altar of freedom.
No, this is not a day of sales, vacations, and parties. That said, in my far to brief journeys with them, I have met none that would find it wrong to be remembered in the happy setting of a barbecue or cook out. In fact, many of them would appreciate it, for they would know that you have the freedom to choose what to eat, when to eat, and to live your lives with liberty because of them and their sacrifice. So, eat a bite of good food for them, and raise a toast to them with your libation of choice.
Let us remember them, and give thanks for them, this day.